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Precious Commodity

Disclaimer: They belong to Joss. I just want to let them out to play and make them happy.
Rating: Pg-13
Pairing: J/R; M/I
Time period: Post BDM
Notes: This little story had been sitting on my desktop, only 3 pages long until I did the music video ‘River In The Wings’. It inspired me, thank goodness. Two paragraphs of this story dovetail with my Mal/Inara story ‘Walking With The Dead’.
Beta: TamSibling

Enjoy!

Precious Commodity

By

Lattelady

Ch 1 Echoes




**********************************

Lawrence Dobson, Alliance mole said to Jayne Cobb, mercenary, in ‘Serenity’ the ‘Firefly’ pilot – “That girl is a precious commodity. They’ll come after her.”


**********************************

1 year later:

Jayne Cobb fought the need for sleep and the throb of pain in his shoulder. He was the hired gun, the muscle, so it was his job to watch over the others. The med tent the Alliance had set up for the wounded crew of Serenity was small, dark and drafty. The Tech who had been assigned to tend their wounds and see to it that they survived the night, sat comfortably in a small attached tent, with the only warming unit turned on high. It had been the Operative’s order that these people live and the Medic had done all he could for them surgically, but he wasn’t going to share his only means of warmth with a boatload of scum his friends had been trying to kill hours earlier.



The sound of someone entering their tent put Jayne on the alert. Vigilance had kept him alive for years and bein’ in the gorramn care of the Alliance just made him plum twitchy. He could tell by the quiet movements that it wasn’t the heavy-footed medic. A stench of blood tickled his nose and ran along his senses. It sent his hand quietly searching for Vera, only to come up empty.

The big mercenary carefully peeked through a screen of lashes. It was a trick he’d learned long ago and one that had saved his life on more than one occasion. Adrenaline rushed through his system when he focused on the small slim girl as she crept closer to the cot Kaylee had shoved against Simon’s bed so she could hold his hand as they slept.

River Tam was spattered in dried blood, some of it her own, most of it Reaver. Her hair was a mess and she was still wearing her tattered dress from hours earlier. It made Jayne’s stomach turn to see her like that. He instinctively gathered his strength to spring, though he knew he didn’t stand a chance if she had a mind to do some killin’. She’d already taken him down twice in the last few days, t’weren’t any reason she couldn’t do it again.

“Sleep,” the girl muttered as she placed a gentle hand on Simon’s shoulder and another one on Kaylee’s. “Sleep and be happy together.”

Jayne let out a quiet breath, but kept watchin’. It didn’t seem right that the person who had saved them from a passel of Reavers should be wanderin’ around alone in the dark, but he didn’t know what to do about it.

“River,” Inara looked up from where she sat on the cold ground beside Mal’s cot. She’d been gently stroking his cheek and whispering words meant to quiet the Captain’s restless sleep, though she doubted she was helping anyone as she sat shivering from exhaustion and shock. The thin gold costume that had been perfect for tournaments on Core worlds had been little protection in real battle and did nothing to keep her warm now.

“Shhhhh,” the girl whimpered and jumped. “Noooo, not River.” Jayne saw fear flash across her dirty, blood spattered face. It was bone deep, soul chillin’ fear, none of the crazy mixed-up confused kind she’d been hollerin’ about ever since she’d popped outta the cold sleep box almost a year back.

“I didn’t mean to startle you.” Inara’s big brown eyes looked up at the battered girl. “But you need medical attention.”

“Out of sight, out of mind,” the girl reasoned as she quickly scanned the perimeters of the tent, instinctively checking every exit and escape route. Her mind was filled with images, some hers, most belonging to others. Thankfully, since the fight in the Maidenhead, it was easier for her to tell the difference.

“I…” Inara blinked, trying to make sense of what River was saying. She knew she should understand her, but her innate ability to read people wasn’t working. She could usually get the gist of what the girl said, but tonight it was like staring at a blank wall. All she could think about was how easily things could have turned out differently. If they had, she might be sitting in this tent trying to draw comfort from a dead man, instead of an injured one. Her mind kept crying out Mal’s name. The memory was strong of how right it had felt to run from Serenity with Reavers hot on their trail and full knowledge she was probably following him to her death. It was that moment she had realized she’d rather die fighting beside him, than live a long life alone.

“He is walking with the dead, and now there are three new bodies added to those he has already lost.” River knelt beside Inara. “The Captain is cold and so are you. Share your body heat to make his journey more bearable and ease your pain as well.”

“River…” All of the sudden Inara understood the child’s meaning. She knew River had psychic abilities but doubted they were needed tonight. The Companion was sure her face was filled with raw emotion instead of her usual calm mask.

“It’s what you both want and need.” The girl encouraged as she moved gracefully to a corner of the tent and seemed to become part of the shadows.

Jayne blinked trying to distinguish River from the darkness. He couldn’t see her, but he could still smell her. There was the scent of blood, and under that was something else. Something he’d smelled before, but never admitted…the smell of woman…But this was River Tam he was thinkin’ on, the scrawny, moon-brained kid…. When had all that changed? When had he begun thinkin’ about her as a woman?

‘When the crash doors opened and she was standing atop them Reaver bodies, with a weapon that dripped dark crimson, held tight in each hand?’ he asked himself, but shook his head. If he was honest, he knew she’d been on his mind much longer than that. Though if she hadn’t, he was sure that would have done the trick. The girl had been a sight to behold! Like one of them goddesses of war he’d heard tell about from the ancient times when Earth-That-Was was young. Just thinkin about it made his groin tighten…just like that day she’d popped outta the box in the hold. She’d gotten his attention right quick that day….

Movement caught his eye and he watched with a bit of awe as Inara crawled onto Mal’s cot and put her arm around him as if she’d never let go. ‘Well if that don’t just beat all,’ he grinned. ‘Maybe some good’ll come outta all of this.’

Jayne’s eyes swept the sleepin’ occupants of the tent. It looked as if everyone was restin’ peaceful like. His shoulder hurt, from where he’d been shot, but the bullet had gone clean through and all he’d needed was a washing and bandaging, not like the rest of the crew.

A quick look around his cot and he realized his clothes were nowhere to be found. “Gorramnit,” he muttered. Pants and shirts that fit him were hard to come by. He hoped that weasel of an Alliance Tech had them stashed somewhere. He figured if he concentrated on tryin’ to get outta that tent, it would keep his mind off of little girl-women he had no business thinkin’ about and allow him to sleep in his own bunk instead of an Alliance tent.

“No, Baby, nooooo,” Zoë cried out in her sleep. Jayne knew she needed tendin’, but didn’t have a clue what to do. Suddenly River was beside the restless woman.

“Shhh,” the girl whispered as she placed her hands on Zoë’s shoulders. “Dream good dreams and sleep, Wash is watching over you and always will be.”

“What’re ya doin’, River?” Jayne looked at the girl standing between his cot and Zo’s.

“Hush,” the girl placed a finger to her lips and frowned over her shoulder at the big man. Then she turned her attention back to Zoë and placed a gentle hand on the wounded woman’s matted curls. “Sleep,” she whispered. “Sleep, tomorrow is time enough to grieve.”

The thump of heavy boots from the other tent caused River to leap to her feet, a look of pure terror on her face.

“Skedaddle, girl,” Jayne grunted the words and jerked his head to the small separation in the tent beside his bed. When he was sure she was out of sight he turned back to the man makin’ his rounds. “What ya do with my pants?”
…………………….
It hadn’t taken much to get the medic to give him back his clothes. They stunk of Reavers and death that even a good cleanin’ might not get out. With a shrug Jayne quickly dressed, reminding himself he’d worn worse in his lifetime and probably would again. It was the argument over Vera that almost led to a fight, but the Tech backed down when he realized that, even wounded, the mercenary could easily take him.

Once dressed, and toting his favorite gun, Jayne did a quick check on his sleeping companions. He didn’t know what River had done to them, but they all appeared to be resting peacefully. He fought a grin when he watched Mal and Inara snuggle closer together in their sleep. “Now if we can only get them like that when they’s awake, we might get some rest on that gorramn boat of ours,” he muttered as he headed back to Serenity.

The boat was a mess and Jayne doubted they’d ever get her in the Black again. He tried switches and controls as he went along, but nothing seemed to be working. It didn’t take no genus mechanic to know that the engine weren’t turning and without that they had no power. With a grunt the big man headed to his bunk where he knew he’d find clean clothes and a flashlight.

“Damn it’s darker than the inside of a cow in here,” he muttered as he stumbled over his things strewn across the floor of his bunk. It took him a while, but he found what he needed. With a resolve he didn’t know he had he headed out again. As good as it would have felt to curl up on his mattress on the floor, he knew he wouldn’t get any sleep with that girl running around all alone out there. He didn’t care if she could take on a whole boat load of Reavers, it weren’t right.

“River,” Jayne called as he shined the beam of his flashlight along the twisted mess that was between the crew quarters and the guest accommodations. “You in here, Crazy-girl?”

He couldn’t get the haunted look that had crossed her face out of his mind. He’d seen her afraid a number of times in the past. Usually it was mindless fear that sent her into peals of screaming and hysteria. Only once had he seen her as afraid as she’d been tonight and that had been on Ariel when she’d run from the Blue Hands. It made his gut wrench to remember how close she’d come to bein’ recaptured and his part in it.

He finally found her pressed into a corner of the storage locker off the main room. The same place Mal had cuffed her after the fight in the Maidenhead.

“Go away,” River cried and blinked from the bright light he shined on her. She held a large gun pressed to her head with her finger on the trigger. “I’ll shoot if you come any closer.”

“River girl, it’s me, Jayne.” He tried to talk calmly as he knew Simon would. “I’m not gonna hurt’cha.”

“Are you alone?” She tried to look around him, but he blocked the entrance.

“Yeah, it’s just me.” He knelt and reached for the gun that she was slowly lowering to her lap. “Why don’tcha give me that for safe keepin’. It can keep Vera company.” His large gun was at his side within easy reach in case things went bad.

“No, no,” she shook her head and held the weapon tightly as if it were her only protection. “I’m not going back, they cannot make me. I will die first.”

“Course ya ain’t goin’ back. We won’t let them take ya. We’d fight for ya don’t ya, know that?” ‘No, she probably didn’t know that, at least she didn’t know he’d never let her be taken. He’d been too vocal in the past about her leavin’.’ “I didn’t mean what I said when I told the others we shoulda left you in the Maidenhead.”

He could feel fear radiating off of her like a living thing and he didn’t understand it. She’d faced Reavers without flinching and he’d seen the look on her face when she was standing on a pile of their dead bodies and the Alliance had broken through the wall behind her. As the soldiers had been waiting for the kill order River Tam had been getting ready to spring into action. She and the crew of Serenity might have been killed if the order had been given, but she would have taken a few of them Alliance boys with her.

“You recognized me as the weapon I have become,” she whispered. “You were afraid for all of you. I bring death wherever I go.”

“Tain’t your fault what they done ta ya.” Jayne had to think for a moment what they’d been talking about, ‘cause his mind had been too focused on River to really listen. “Now gorramnit, let me at least put the safety on the gun. I don’t want no accidents.” He reached over and moved her small hand aside and one of his large callused fingers flicked a delicate button under the trigger guard.

“If they come for me, you must hide.” She looked up at him serious and determined.

“What kinda hundan ya take me for anyway. They come, you hide!” He glared at her. “I thought you was some kinda genus, they ain’t coming. That Alliance man said it was over, finished.”

“It will not be finished until we are away from this place.” River fought to suppress a shiver, whether it was from cold or fear she didn’t know. “They want their weapon back, or dead, so that their secrets are safe.”

“That why you’re hidin’?” It made sense, but Jayne didn’t want her dyin’ on him neither, and she had begun to tremble again. Her wounds needed tendin’ to. She had a nasty bite on her shoulder and a gash on her forehead. He was sure there were more he couldn’t see. He hated to think what kinda sickness she might get from a Reaver bite. She might not want to go to the Alliance med-tent, but she needed to get cleaned up.

“If they find me now, they have the means to make me go back with them.”

“Whatcha talkin about?” Jayne frowned. He didn’t trust much of anyone especially the Alliance, but he didn’t see what that had to do with it. They’d run from the Alliance plenty of times. Sure it would be harder with no ship, but they’d stand and fight if they had to.

“They have Simon, and Kaylee,” her voice hitched and she bit her lip as tears filled her eyes. “They have the Captain, Inara, you and Zoë under their guns. With any of these people they could make me do as they pleased. Why do you think I was willing to leave Serenity two days ago? Then it would have only been Simon I had to worry about.”

“You was afraid for us? Now, girl, that plain don’t make no sense!” Though he knew it did, but wanted to get her out of the dark cold corner she’d retreated to. “And besides, I don’t belong on that list. I’da turned you in if I’d had the chance.”

“No you wouldn’t. Jayne forgets that I am a reader. I know your thoughts.”

Cao, you stay outta my mind, it’s no place for a little girl like you to be wanderin’ around,” he fumed. “If you won’t let that Alliance medic tend ya, let me take ya to Doc’s infirmary and see if we can find something ta clean up them wounds.” He held out his hand as he’d learned to do when gentling wild colts on his pa’s ranch.

River gripped her gun and carefully watched Jayne with large brown eyes, which looked at him as if he held the secret to the ‘verse. She wanted badly to delve into his mind, but she didn’t. Feelings and thoughts often scattered around her, but she never intentionally sought them out. It was too confusing.

Then a memory surfaced and she instantly knew it belonged to her. She had been in the Maidenhead and something had flashed through her mind, something that had split her in two and had driven her to move, to fight. The little part of her that had still clung to sanity did what she had always done when the Alliance had played its games with her mind: she thought about dancing. The part of her that was still River had danced an elaborate ballet while the weapon she’d become had killed and maimed. Then Jayne had been there, had been fighting beside her and finally he had tried to subdue her.

“You helped me,” she gasped as her fingers touched his hand. “You grounded me so I was able to separate the dance from the echo,” River whispered as she let Jayne help her to her feet. “I am sorry I injured you.”

“If I was such a help, why’d ya have to twist my balls?” He knew instantly what she was talkin’ about. It had been exhilarating to watch her fight and desire had ripped through him when he had joined her in battle. Then when he’d grabbed her compact body tightly against his he’d been shot through with a throbbing sexual need that had split his concentration and almost brought him to his knees.

“You were in danger. I did not want the man behind us to kill you.” She turned to him, clear-eyed and sane. He knew she was telling the truth.

“I missed a guy behind us?” He’d been fighting her and the pleasure that sang in his veins and hadn’t been as careful as he should have been.

“He had a knife,” she whispered, still remembering how safe it had felt to have the big man’s arms around her. “I did not think you would listen to reason at that moment.”

“Then I guess I should say thank you,” he nodded. She was such a tiny thing and he hated that she’d been able to take him down, not once, but twice.

“Wait!” River panicked as they were about to leave the storage area. “You must promise me that if they come, and I can’t do so myself, you will kill me.”

“River I can’t…” His hand covered hers on the gun she refused to relinquish.

“Yes you can!” Her voice broke and tears filled her eyes. “You are the only one who could. Simon would rather die than see me taken. Kaylee barely has the heart to pull the trigger to save herself. It would break her to put a bullet in me. Zoë is in no condition, nor is Inara. Both have damaged hearts and they wouldn’t see what needed to be done until it was too late. The Captain…he could do it, but it would send him into blackness much worse than the one he is working his way back from. Jayne, you are the only one.” She put her small hand over his heart. “You were on Ariel, you saw what they did to me. Promise me that you won’t let me go back to that.”

“You got my word,” he sighed as he put his arm around her to steady her as they moved through the twisted wreck that was their ship. He figured since she was a reader he didn’t need to tell her that if it came to a battle, them Alliance soldiers would have to take him out to get her. It was likely they’d both die.
……………………………….
River sat shivering on Simon’s exam table as Jayne carefully unzipped the back of her dress.

“You’re a mess, girl.” His voice broke when he saw that she was bloodied and bruised under the soft green material. “I’d tell ya to take a shower, but we got no power on this boat. The water would be colder than milk from a witch’s tit.”

“It would be the wise thing to do though,” River bit her lip to keep from laughing at the mental picture that Jayne’s words had caused to form in her mind. “I would get clean and be able to wash the blood out of my hair, though I’ve never used witch’s milk for shampoo.”

“You laughin at me, girl?” Jayne tried to sound ferocious, but ended up chuckling.

“It would appear that I am.” She looked at him over her shoulder. “Is there much damage done?”

“Yes,” he grunted, all humor gone as he remembered how she’d looked when she’d tossed the medical kit through the door and tried to dive through after it, only to be pulled back by Reavers as the blast doors closed her out.

“I am all right, though,” she turned and knelt on the table until she was facing the large mercenary. She felt safe in his company, or as safe as she could feel with a battalion of Alliance troops between them and the Black. “The Reavers did only minimal damage. I am sore, and very tired. Please help me take care of this so I can try to sleep.”

“What do you want me to do?” He couldn’t take his eyes off her face. The flashlight between them was casting shadows everywhere. He knew she had to be exhausted, physically and emotionally.

“Simon keeps antiseptic soap in the cupboard above the sink. Would you reach it for me?” She was as caught up in him as he was in her. She had fought and killed. It made her blood throb. Standing inches away was a man who knew the power of the things she was feeling. She’d recognized it when he’d held her tightly trying to stop the bar fight she’d started. It had called to her then as it was doing now.

“Ah…yeah, sure,” his voice caught in his throat as he pulled away from her and searched for the item she needed.

When she slid down from the table a small moan escaped her lips, but not Jayne’s attention. “I thought you said you was all right?”

“I am stiff that is all.” She pressed one hand to the neckline of her dress. They had both forgotten he’d unzipped it and left the back hanging open when he’d checked her for injuries.

“If you can you make it to the shower on your own, I’ll see if I can scrounge up somethin’ warm for you to wear. I got no idea what’s in one piece on this ship, anymore.” He didn’t like the idea of her going alone, but he wanted her clean and dry as soon as possible. At least that was what he told himself. A scantily dressed River was playing havoc with his insides and he didn’t like it one bit.

“I am sore, not dead.” She rolled her eyes at him, and gave him the look she usually reserved for Simon, the one that said louder than words that someone was acting like a ‘boob’. But since this was Jayne and not her brother, she added gently, “I would appreciate your help in finding me something warmer to wear.”

“Here’s the soap and I found some ointment, too.” The words caught in his throat as he watched her expression shift from playful to something very gentle. “Do you want the flashlight?”

“You take it, I can bathe in the dark, but you might need it in your search.” She edged toward the door, the container of antiseptic soap in one hand and the gun in the other. She could feel his eyes on her weapon and it made her tremble.

“River,” he blocked her exit from the room. He looked large and deadly with Vera slung over his shoulder and a grim expression on his face.

“Please, Jayne,” her eyes filled but she blinked back the tears. “I can’t do this otherwise.” Every nerve in her body was screaming to run, and hide, to bury herself in the depths of the storage closet where he’d found her or wrap her arms around the man, standing inches away, until she had become a part of him. Neither was an option so she clung to her gun with her chin held high.

“I won’t let them take you, River, I promise.” He watched her as she absorbed his words. “Now you git goin’ and I’ll be right along. I’ll guard the door for ya.”

“Thank you,” she whispered as he stepped aside. The last thing he saw before he turned toward her room was a flash of her slim white back as she headed toward the communal shower. “Tamade!” he muttered as he pushed his way through hanging wiring. ‘But whose gonna guard the door from me?’ He stopped in his tracks and shuddered. There he’d admitted it to himself, he wanted River Tam. Shit he was royally screwed!


To Chapter 2

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Quotes

The moving finger writes: and having writ Moves on. nor all your piety nor wit Shall lure it back to cancal half a line, Nor all your tears wash out a word of it...The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam

If I quiet the voices in my head, I would face the day with nothing to write. - Unknown

I must go down to the seas again the lonely sea and sky...J Masefield

Cinderella walked on broken glass,
Sleeping beauty let a whole lifetime pass.
Belle fell in love with a hideous beast,
Jasmine married a common thief.
Ariel walked on land for love and life,
Snow white barely escaped a knife.
It was all about blood, sweat, and tears.
Because love means facing your biggest fears


The heart has its reasons that reason knows nothing of...French Proverb

I have drempt in my life dreams that have stayed with me ever after. They've gone through me like wine through water and altered the colour of my mind ...E. Bronte

To love someone deeply gives you strength. Being loved by someone deeply gives you courage...Lao Tzu

It takes chaos to give birth to a dancing star ..F. Nietzsche

How many loved your moments of glad grace, and loved your beauty with love false or true? But one man loved the pilgrim Soul in you, and loved the sorrows of your changing face...Yeats

Let us go, you and I, when the evening is spread out against the sky...T. S. Eliot

In that book which is my memory, on the first page of the chapter, that is the day when I first met you, appears the words, "here begins a new life".
La Vita Nuova

Midnight courage of the heart...Jen Kirkwood

The three o-clock in the morning courage which Bonaparte thought was the rarest...Thoreau

Did you say it? I love you; I don't ever want to live without you; you changed my life. Did you say it?
Make a plan, set a goal, work toward it, but every now and then, look around, drink it in, 'cause this is it. It might all be gone tomorrow. - Meredith Grey

Shakespeare is easy, life is hard...Wheels

Don't try to be a great man, just be a man. Let history make up its own mind...Z.Cochron

I had a job to do and I was unafraid...Jack to John Creighton

For I dipt into the future, as far as the human eye could see. Saw the vision of the world, and the wonders that can be...RWW Hipwell

Without diviation from the norm, progress is impossible...F. Zappa

The Owl and the Pussy-cat went to sea, In a beautiful pea-green boat: They took some honey and plenty of money, Wrapped up in a five-pound note. The Owl looked up to the stars above, and sang to a small guitar...E Lear

Sweet and low, sweet and low, Wind of the western sea, Low, low, breathe and blow, Wind of the western sea! Over the rolling waters go, Come from the dying moon and blow, Blow him again to me;... Tennison

Charmed magic casements, opening on the foam
Of perilous seas, in faery lands forlorn... Keats

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